The Bonstelle’s “Intimate Apparel” examines the inner lives of American women
Don’t be fooled by the name. Intimate Apparel, by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage, has little in common with Victoria’s Secret. This most recent Bonstelle Theatre production is a compelling, tightly pieced drama, peopled by characters whose words and actions capture a poignant moment in the history of women and African Americans.
Set in the lower Manhattan of 1905, Intimate Apparel is the story of one of the many children of former slaves who came north seeking a new, fulfilling life. When the play opens, Esther is a 35-year-old seamstress who has all but given up on marriage prospects and capably provides for herself by creating lingerie for upper-class white women and black prostitutes. Her dream is to save money in order to someday open a salon where African-American women can feel what it’s like to be pampered. When she begins an epistolary relationship with a Caribbean stranger working on the Panama Canal, her thoughts of romance are reawakened. Esther realizes that if she is to pursue this romance, she must put aside her culturally inappropriate feelings for the Hasidic shopkeeper, Mr. Marks. He shares Esther’s passion for beautiful, finely crafted fabrics, and the unspoken attraction between these two characters gives Intimate Apparel some of its finest moments.
The Bonstelle Theatre’s production of Intimate Apparel, under the direction of Jesse Merz, unfolds like the intricate, hand-woven silks that Esther esteems. It is lovely, strong and authentic. Esther is played with grace and perception by junior BFA student Indigo Colbert (previously seen in Flow). The strong supporting cast includes: Bridgette Jordan as pianist-turned-prostitute Mayme; Celeste Shropshire as the lively (busy-body) landlady, Mrs. Dickson; Derell Jones as the Caribbean suitor, George; George Abud as the sensitive fabric merchant, Mr. Marks; and Mackenzie Conn as Mrs. VanBuren, the unhappily married, rich white lady who enjoys living vicariously through Esther.
The production team includes: Michael Waldrup (Stage Manager), Fred Florkowski (Scenic Designer), Anthony Karpinski (Technical Director), Clare Hungate-Hawk (Costume Designer), Jon Weaver (Lighting Designer), Michael Thomas (Sound Designer) and Alexandra Stewart (Publicity Manager).
It’s easy to see why Intimate Apparel won the 2004 New York Drama Critics’ Circle and the Outer Critics Circle awards for Best Play and Best Off-Broadway Play. And in a happy coincidence, Ms. Nottage’s groundbreaking play Ruined will be opening at Detroit’s Plowshares Theatre next weekend. That means Detroiters have the rare opportunity to see and compare these two thought-provoking Nottage works – both of which feature strong women making tough decisions in a harsh world.
Intimate Apparel runs Feb. 10–19 at Wayne State University’s Bonstelle Theatre, located at 3424 Woodward Avenue, one block south of Mack Avenue at Eliot. The Wayne State Theatre box office is open Tuesday through Saturday, 2–6 p.m., at the Hilberry Theatre at 4743 Cass Avenue. Tickets can be purchased at the door of the Bonstelle Theatre one hour prior to performances. Regular tickets are available for $15 and tickets are available to students, seniors ages 62+ and Wayne State University faculty, staff and Alumni Association members for $12. For more information, or to buy tickets online, visit the theatre’s website.